We love teaching our kids how to pitch, catch, hit, and tackle, but what about teaching your children how to approach issues that divide? Unfortunately, our culture doesn’t seem to be any closer to agreement. We’re possibly further than ever from each other in public conversations about race, politics, religion, and any issue where we draw ideological lines in the sand and, sometimes, point fingers to advance our own narrow views.
So how do we raise our kids to truly evaluate the assumptions, the generalizations, and the judgments that so many people seem to carry around? There are creative ways to approach the potential for conflict that can lead to greater mutual understanding and facilitate growth. We can change the culture in the world we inhabit: our families, workplaces, schools, and communities. The best way to start is by teaching your children how to approach issues that divide people. Here’s how to do it.
Sign them up for debate club.Teach open, spirited dialogue by modeling it yourself.
Learning how to argue both sides of an issue gives respect and understanding for those with differing viewpoints. If there’s not a handy debate club, make it a game at home. Assign issues where you find yourself tending to be divisive. Teach open, spirited dialogue by modeling it yourself.
Reach out to people you dislike.
One All Pro Dad required his children to invite home a classmate they had bullied. After walking home together with a parent, enjoying supervised playtime, having dinner as a family, and riding back to his home in the car, they realized they all had more in common than they suspected. The next play date was voluntary. A week later, they were friends.
Respect individuality and diversity.
As parents, its important that we model respect for people as individuals. America is the original safe haven for diversity. It’s one of the values that makes this nation great. Home is a powerful classroom, and our children learn most of their assumptions, prejudices, and intolerance from us. Lead some dinner table conversations about people who are “different” and ideas that rub you the wrong way.
Teach your kids active listening skills. This involves eye contact, nodding, refraining from organizing a rebuttal while the other person is talking, and paraphrasing what has been said to make sure you heard correctly. If our kids become known as active listeners, they will become natural leaders in bringing people together.
Look for the good.
Train your kids to note strengths in opposing points of view, to advocate what they are for rather than what they are against, and look for common areas of agreement. Rather than weakening their own convictions, looking for common ground serves to increase the likelihood of constructive dialogue and reduce the incidence of conflict.
Sound off: What do you think it takes to have a constructive conversation with someone you disagree with strongly?
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “How does it feel when you disagree with someone?”